The Beast of Bodmin Moor

The sky was dark, the black clouds hung low over the hills and a stream of sunlight lighting up the cliffs created a spectacular contrast. This was Ethel’s favourite type of weather, it reflected her emotionally turbulent state perfectly and she revelled in the drama of it all.

Ethel was on holiday at one of her favourite seaside locations, on the north coast of Cornwall, where the sea could be fearsome. She enjoyed being awed by its majesty. It calmed her. It was a late autumn break, especially arranged for those who wanted to watch the waves crash onto the shore, sending up their spray. Best not to get too close, as a rogue wave could whip you off the rock you were standing on and that would be that. No more Ethel.

Ethel was extremely respectful of the power of the ocean and avoided risks. She was as far from gung-ho as you could get. So when she didn’t return that night to her hotel, no one thought that she’d suffered a misadventure. She’d been coming for years and was well versed in how to stay safe.

In fact, Ethel had been led astray. She’d bumped into an old friend, by chance, and they’d gone inland, to Bodmin Moor, to look at one of the ancient sites. They’d had a pleasant enough outing and afterwards, Ethel had decided to carry on walking to another site, which by her reckoning, wasn’t more than a mile or so away. But she became disorientated and eventually accepted that she was lost. She might well have been walking around in circles for some time. She reached in her pocket for her phone and then remembered that she’d left it in her car, not wanting to be interrupted while with her friend. 

Ethel was in the middle of nowhere and the light was fading. She found a wall which would provide some shelter and decided her best bet was to stay put. She had decent enough clothing, although not a lot to eat. A small bar of chocolate would have to suffice.

What she hadn’t bargained for was the beast of Bodmin Moor. She heard of it, of course, but thought it was just a myth. It was hungry that night, and soon found Ethel. Scraps of her clothing were found the next day.


The enquiry into Ethel’s disappearance and apparent demise dragged on for months. Her friend, Alice, was questioned repeatedly but had no answers. She hadn’t even realised that Ethel had stayed up on Bodmin Moor after they parted company. She’d assumed Ethel had left soon after she had.

The hotel was also under scrutiny, for not having raised the alarm when she didn’t return. The police wanted someone to face the music and weren’t at all convinced by  the local belief that the Beast of Bodmin Moor had killed and devoured Ethel.

As far as the police were concerned, someone had gone to a lot of trouble to make it look like that, but they didn’t buy it.

Sheep did regularly go missing mind you, with the odd scraps of wool left lying around, so there was a precedence for this, but Ethel was the first person to vanish, though not many attempted to spend the night out in the open, as she had. Not that anyone knew this for certain, it was all guesswork.

A few brave souls decided to become vigilantes and created a hide up on Bodmin moor and spend the night there, with their infra-red cameras that could detect movement and film in the dark. They were planning on a week of night-time vigils, working in pairs. Andy and Dave went first. They had warm clothes, a flask of hot tea, some sandwiches in case they got peckish and plenty of chocolate. They were good mates and wanted to be the first to get a picture of this mythical creature.

Around 2am, Dave said ‘ Did you hear that, Andy?’

Andy strained to listen, but all he could hear was the wind. ‘ No, he said, I can’t hear anything’.

‘I did,’ David countered, ‘I might go out to take a look’.

‘Just a minute’, said Andy, ‘That wasn’t what we agreed’.

‘I know, I won’t be a minute though, I’ll just step outside for a minute and look around the perimeter of our hide’.

After ten minutes during which Dave didn’t reappear, Andy began to get jittery. He wondered if his friend was playing tricks on him. He put his head out of the hide entrance and called. There was no reply. Total silence.

If Dave was trying to scare him, he was succeeding. Why would he do that though, he asked himself. He’d broken the agreement, that was made by the whole team, and now Andy didn’t know what to do. If he went out with his torch, he’d be breaking the terms they’d all agreed to, too.

Andy decided to stay put, to sit this one out. Dave would face the music when he got back. But he didn’t reappear. He too disappeared leaving behind just a few scraps of clothing. This created a huge furore. Whatever Andy had done would have been judged as wrong. How come he’d not gone looking for Dave? Surely he must have heard something. He replied in the negative. The watch was abandoned by the rest of the team, no one wanted to venture up to the hide again, which was cordoned off by the police during their investigation. No evidence was found. No one faced the music.


Two disappearances in similar circumstances up on Bodmin Moor was having quite an effect in the surrounding villages. Everyone was feeling spooked out. Mistrust was rife, a dark atmosphere pervaded and no one local ventured out on to the moors after dark.

Tourists were a different matter though, as they weren’t necessarily privy to the recent events. They strayed at their peril. The pub landlords and local B&B’s warned them, but the visitors didn’t pay much heed to the folklore of these parts and, despite the vanishings, secretly thought it was all going to be explained rationally at some point soon. Luckily for them, there were no more incidents. 

The police were also looking for a culprit, someone very clever, who had tricked Dave out of the hide and done goodness knows what with him. The motive was unclear. And as to what happened to his shoes, his heavy-duty jacket, surely the Beast of Bodmin Moor wouldn’t have eaten that. The lack of remains added to the mystery.

There were some barely discernible track marks, that could have been made by a body being dragged, but these petered out quite soon. Forensics found the odd fibre and hair, that probably belonged to Dave, but they didn’t indicate foul play and some indication of him having been there was to be expected. The lack of any evidence on the cameras, that had been mounted in the hide was equally unhelpful.

Andy started drinking a lot afterwards, he was on a downwards path, struggling with all the what ifs. His wife tried to support him, saying ‘Goodness knows what might have happened to you had you ventured out’, but Andy was still racked by guilt.

Three months later, Dave reappeared. Dave had wandered away from the hide, searching for whatever he thought he’d heard, become disorientated and gone into a state of shock. He had frightened himself by thinking he’d heard and seen the beast. The rocks and shapes played tricks on him up there in the dark. By the time he was picked up and taken to the mental hospital in Bodmin, he no longer knew who he was, what he was doing on Bodmin Moor in the middle of the night or where he came from. A serious case of amnesia. And he had no phone or ID on him, at the time. They were in his rucksack in the hide.

As his memory recovered, the medics began to realise who he was and contacted some of his family. These introductions had to be handled carefully, as they didn’t want Dave to relapse. He’d obviously been a lot more anxious, up on Bodmin Moor, than he’d recognised.

The police looked very silly and incompetent, not checking the local hospitals sufficiently. The scraps of clothing, it was later decided, could have been from anything. The myth had taken such a grip on the imaginations of the locals that it had infected everyone’s ability to think rationally.

Ethel’s disappearance did, however, still remain unexplained. And the scraps of clothing found had definitely belonged to her. The police had just got sloppy and made assumptions after the second disappearance. So the myth of the beast of Bodmin Moor prevailed.


Time passed and Ethel’s disappearance became a cold case, not solved, not closed but put on the back burner. The police had more urgent matters to attend to and with no new evidence, they didn’t have any leads to follow up.

Like Andy, Alice struggled to come to terms with what had happened or what might have happened. She, too, blamed herself for suggesting the walk on Bodmin Moor in the first place and for leaving before Ethel. Regret in such a situation is to be expected.

Alice was back in the area several years later and decided to undertake some sleuthing herself. She went back to the moors and to the spot where it was thought Ethel had spent her last night. She sat there and surveyed the area. Obviously, any evidence would be lost but she knew this was where the scraps of clothing had been found.

It was behind a low wall, with a gap to the left, but the stone that Ethel probably sat behind was tall and imposing. An ancient one that was now part of this structure. Higher ground lay behind and the land dipped down in front, towards a gentle valley with a few scrubby trees and bushes and a stream. She ventured down into the valley and walked along the stream.

Alice had a weird feeling, as if Ethel were calling out to her. Her eyes lighted upon a scrap of clothing, snagged on one of the bushes. It looked remarkably like the scraps that were found, which had been publicised by the police to try and enlist help. How could that still be here, all this time later, Alice wondered. She decided not to touch it, for fear of contaminating vital evidence and called the police.

The police weren’t that interested. An unlikely lead when they had other priorities, but they removed it and sent it off to the lab. Alice’s suspicions were confirmed, it had most likely come from the same jacket as the earlier scraps. No DNA was found but it did point the police in a new direction.

Further down the stream was an old mine shaft. They organised a search and low and behold, Ethel’s body was found. So not the beast of Bodmin Moor, a murder, and a murderer still on the loose, thinking they’d got away with it.

This focused the minds of the police and agitated the locals. What was worse, the myth of a beast or an actual murderer. The evidence was looked at again. All the cars leaving the moor that night, at a spot where there was number plate recognition, were re-examined. It was likely to be one of the last to leave, and the person would have known another person was still up on the moors, because of her car, still parked in the car park.

The police brought in back up from a neighbouring force to sift through the evidence and contact the drivers. These were all questioned again, and their whereabouts scrutinised. Suspicion pointed towards Dave Pengilly, the man who had gone missing himself, when up on the moor on the night watch. It took sometime but gradually the police had enough of a timeline on Dave’s movements that night to arrest him and bring him in for questioning.

Given his previous mental health record, questioning had to be conducted with a psychologist on hand, as well as his solicitor. Perhaps his previous amnesia had been triggered by his guilty state of mind.

Dave was relieved to be able to confess. He had spotted Ethel late that evening and gone back in the small hours, not taking his car as far as the carpark, so there was no CCTV from the camera at the junction. He’d walked the last bit. He’d had an altercation with her earlier in the week, in a car park in town and claimed he wanted to scare her but ended up doing far worse.

The police didn’t believe him when he declared it was an accident, that he’d never intended to kill her, as he’d covered his tracks so well. It looked premeditated to them. The jury believed it was, too and he was handed a life sentence. The trial generated masses of media coverage and, despite there now being a solution  regarding Ethel, the myth of the beast of Bodmin Moor remains alive and well in the popular imagination.

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